A New Way of Exploring the Value of Poetry

This month we published We Need to Talk: A New Method for Evaluating Poetry by Michael Theune and Bob Broad. In this post the authors explain how their book invites us to explore the value of poetry in a new way.

It is difficult to overstate the role evaluation plays in contemporary American poetry. Contest judges, anthologists, editors, critics, workshop leaders and participants, readers, and last but certainly not least, poets themselves – always judging which word, image, form, line break, ending, &c, &c, &c is best – all engage in assessment. And yet, there is generally little examination of the dynamics of evaluation and the criteria at its core.

It’s not that people engaged in contemporary American poetry don’t want this. Many do. But axiological inquiry is stymied both by the misconception that there are only two ways to approach value – via false objectivity or else acknowledging that value is sealed away in subjective solipsism – and by the traditional approaches of the humanities: that to more closely consider value one should read more carefully and think more deeply about the issue.

Our book, We Need to Talk: A New Method for Evaluating Poetry, approaches value differently and recommends a new kind of axiological investigation for poetry. We Need to Talk understands value to be contingent, that is, comprised of the ever-shifting – but not unknowable – elements produced by numerous forces, both textual and contextual, from the social and political to the aesthetic and the personal. Additionally, We Need to Talk recommends exploring value in a new way: by empirically studying the conversations of poetry assessors.

Such conversations occur frequently in contemporary American poetry. Teams of anthologists and journal editors engage in them, as do panels of contest judges. So do MFA faculty as they determine which applicants will be accepted for their program. The typical poetry workshop is one long conversation. The material is there to be collected, and then studied. And the results – certainly not guessed at, but rather empirically present, and often very surprising – demand articulation and publication.

We Need to Talk doesn’t offer facile answers. Rather, it offers a method by which anyone interested in contemporary American poetry can more closely examine what they really value in the verse they admire. Still, this is significant. Whenever evaluative decisions have consequence, it is incumbent upon the decision-makers to be as aware as possible of the values upon which their judgements depend. Then, they can share those values, clarifying their work. Or else, if their revealed values are not those they wish to adhere to, they can work to change them. Either way, the method at the heart of We Need to Talk promises to have a salutary effect on the processes of assessment ubiquitous in American poetry today.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Changing Creative Writing in America edited by Graeme Harper. 

 

What is the Future of Creative Writing in America?

This month we published Changing Creative Writing in America edited by Graeme Harper. In this post, Graeme explains the inspiration behind the book.

Not much more than a teenager, and long before I had even visited the USA, I read the recollections of Malcolm Bradbury and William Golding, both later knighted for their work in British letters, and Golding a Nobel Laureate, about their experiences of creative writing workshops in American colleges. From their British point of view, creative writing in American higher education was certainly intriguing – a combination of vibrant literary culture making, emoting attendees at what appeared to be a self-help group, and some worrisome naiveté. In any case, as creative writers, both Bradbury and Golding couldn’t help but be fascinated by the phenomenon, as well as by its increasing popularity.

My own predilections, having been resident in various parts of the world at various times, were already eclectic; appreciating both the American point of view and the British, wondering on the attitudes of each, and thinking a critical eye might well be applied productively to either one, and both in direct contrast, and to other largely unmined evidence of how creative writing manifested itself in the world’s universities and colleges – topics that later fed into my graduate study and to my editing of the journal New Writing: the International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing and the New Writing Viewpoints (Multilingual Matters) book series.

30 years later, and me now an established resident here in the USA, in February 2017 I attended the conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the American “Association of Writers and Writing Programs” (AWP). Held in Washington DC, and billed as “now the largest literary conference in North America”, to my mind that AWP conference and its clearly celebratory nature raised more questions than it answered, and certainly spurred on the writing and editing of Changing Creative Writing in America in ways predictable and unpredictable.

Predictably, there are writers in this book, such as Kate Haake, Tim Mayers, Dianne Donnelly, Stephanie Vanderslice and Pat Bizzaro who some people will associate with the increased pursuit here of what is generally called “Creative Writing Studies”, or the critical study of creative writing practices, results and pedagogies. Many in the fields of Composition and Rhetoric in the USA will also recognize the Foreword writer, Joe Moxley, whose 1989 book, Creative Writing in America forms an intellectual and pedagogic backdrop to this current book. Less predictably, there are other contributors who might not be so well known to readers, and who are largely situated between creative and critical activities as varied (or some exploring creative writing might indeed say, “as connected”) as Literary Studies, Composition and Rhetoric, and New Media and Film Studies. These are also current voices, contributing voices, and vibrant voices, perhaps to Creative Writing Studies, perhaps simply to the question of where Creative Writing currently lives in the American educational context. All in this book pursue an investigation and a declaration of where we are now in Creative Writing teaching and learning in the USA, where the past informs this contemporary position, and where we might productively progress.

Changing Creative Writing in America is largely a positive book, celebrating what we might achieve – but it is not without its posed challenges, challenges to us all, calls for not stasis but for concerted change. It is in that challenging, in those desires for change, that we might well find the dynamic future of Creative Writing in America.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like What We Talk about When We Talk about Creative Writing edited by Anna Leahy.

New Writing Viewpoints – the Decimal, the Decade, the Top Ten!

This month we published the 10th book in the New Writing Viewpoints series Towards a Poetics of Creative Writing by Dominique Hecq. In this post, the editor of the series, Graeme Harper, celebrates the achievements of the series.

I’ve always liked the number ten. To me ten embodies opportunity. While two is a pair, or sometimes a couple, and five is a handful, ten is the multiplication of these, five spirited couples or two hands full of opportunities. Viva the decade!

NWV booksYou can try denying ten’s inherently positive mystery, but it will keep on rising up and revealing itself. For example, most often you don’t have twenty small appendages, you have ten fingers and ten toes. What moments of brilliance, I’ve sometimes pondered, might occasionally happen in the interchanging of the qualities of these two dedicated sets of ten? This question occurs to me most often when grabbing something between my toes or when doing a handstand. When you turn ten years of age you might not truly be a teenager but you know something has changed for the better. You celebrate this without knowing exactly what’s coming next, but suspecting it will be interesting. From then on, after each decade, you celebrate again, in the same way and with the same feeling of possibility.

Ten casts an affirmative spell! The calendar labours to look connected to a month or a day that is ten years back: the numbers seem to be saying something much more than is immediately clear. You can see 2005 is missing something that 2015 clearly possesses. You sense that from a previous planting you now have a fine blossoming.

A moment ago, while I was writing this piece, an article appeared in my email inbox. It is entitled “Ten Things You Didn’t Know Last Week”. Ten is always watching to make the most of new experiences!

Ten years ago the New Writing Viewpoints series came into being. It took the liveliness and bravery of Multilingual Matters, reflecting the characters of Mike and Marjukka Grover, the insight of Commissioning Editor Anna Roderick, and the forward thinking of Tommi Grover to imagine that supporting such a thing had some potential, possibly even enough of that potential to create longevity.

Edited by Anna Leahy, Power and Identity in the Creative Writing Classroom (2005) was published to strong interest – not least because Anna was able to communicate the uniqueness of her book to her colleagues in the USA and because the creative writing academic community was looking for works that explored issues in the teaching and learning of creative writing and not finding much that delved very deeply. Certainly there were personal stories of workshops and worshopping, and “how to” books about writing fiction or poetry or screenplays, and works about how to write well, and books from Rhetoric and Composition specialists that touched on creativity, and handbooks and guides for students, but there was a limited number of books by creative writers and creative writing teachers that took a topic in the investigation of creative writing, in the teaching and learning of creative writing, and delved into that topic with a thoroughness that suggested there was empirical research, practical understanding and theoretical consideration being applied, as well as an awareness that there was more to discover, that there was even more to investigate.

Anna’s book did that. Others have done so too. Whether considering teaching techniques or research discoveries in creative writing, the books in the New Writing Viewpoints series are written and edited by experts from around the world, creative writers, teachers and researchers of creative writing, a community of practitioners and scholars that grows each year, and with each new book contributes to discussion of a human practice – that is, a discussion of creative writing – bringing new insights, new knowledge, new avenues for further thought and exploration.

New Writing Viewpoints reaches its ten year point with a sense that the curiosity that drove the founding the series, the courage and forward thinking of the publisher that made it happen, and the possibility and opportunity that always arrives with ten, is now truly blossoming.

In the next few months we will see the publication of Towards a Poetics of Creative Writing by Dominique Hecq, as well as Creative Writing and Education, an edited collection featuring contributors from around the world, in which I’ve had the pleasure of playing an editing role, and Creative Composition: Inspiration and Techniques for Writing Instruction, edited by Danita Berg and Lori A. May.

What Dominique and the contributors to Danita and Lori’s book and to Creative Writing and Education have in common is their commitment to advancing this exciting field of creative and critical practice. What they have in common too is that they will benefit from the support of Tommi and Anna, of Elinor, Sarah, Laura, Kim and others at Multilingual Matters in approaching the practice and analysis of creative writing, its teaching and its researching, with openness, enthusiasm and astuteness. Needless to say, I suspect ten would be very impressed!

For more information about the series please see our website. We are offering a special 50% discount on all books in the series until the end of the year. To obtain the discount just use the code NWV2015 at the checkout.

Key Issues in Creative Writing

Last month we published Key Issues in Creative Writing edited by Dianne Donnelly and Graeme Harper and so we asked them to explain a little about where the idea for the book came from and how it contributes to the field of creative writing pedagogy.

Key Issues in Creative WritingA book emerges from any number of places – but often the starting point comes from a simple conversation. We probably – at least it’s likely! — began Key Issues in Creative Writing when talking about some other Creative Writing idea or ideas. Certainly, by the time we began to talk to potential authors at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Washington DC in 2011 we had a reasonable sense of the book but, as yet, no definite form or shape. There was a need even then for more conversation and, naturally, coffee!

One of the important things we discussed early in the book’s evolution was having a range of voices — those who had played a role in thinking about Creative Writing in higher education, but from different points of view, based on different experiences at different times and for different reasons. We wanted an international mix as well – not the entire spectrum of potential world voices but at least some reference to alternate national perspectives.

Of course, all this conversation, all this talking about “who”, was a mere whisper compared to time spent talking about “what”!

“Key” issues in Creative Writing – what exactly are the “key” issues, and from what point of view, and to whom, are they key? The point was largely that if Creative Writing had grown and grown stronger in and around universities and colleges then what did those teaching and writing in those places think were key issues and how had those key issues impacted on their own ways of working – whether teaching or writing? In the large part, the book began to look for issues relating to the pedagogies of Creative Writing, with an interest also in the emergence of Creative Writing research in countries like the United Kingdom and Australia where Creative Writing research has grown, particularly in relation to the growth of doctoral study in Creative Writing. An interest in both teaching and research pointed us toward a wider concept of “knowledge” in Creative Writing and this then informed much of the formative work that took the Keys Issues in Creative Writing from a conversation to a brief to authors and, finally, to a completed manuscript.

We’ve made the point in the introduction to the book, as well as in its conclusion, that we are in no sense saying that these are the only issues, or even the only key issues, in the Creative Writing. In fact, we emphasize that for us the book’s success will in some ways be measured by how many readers begin to think about what they personally consider to be key issues, whether these issues are similar to those explored by the writers in the book or very different from them. Using the word “key” was our way of encouraging others to define for themselves what might or might not be most significant to them in the pursuit of Creative Writing knowledge — knowledge about teaching and about the practice of Creative Writing itself. We hope the book will open a dialogue that continues to explore and interrogate the key issues in Creative Writing.

For more information on the New Writing Viewpoints series please see our website. Dianne and Graeme’s other books in the series can be seen below. 

Dianne Donnelly and Graeme Harper's other books in the New Writing Viewpoint series
Dianne Donnelly and Graeme Harper’s other books in the New Writing Viewpoint series